That’s me and my 4-year-old this summer. He’s trying to get my attention, I think. My 9-year-old daughter took the photo because she thought it was hilarious, but I think it captures my mental space right now.
I am Done. With. Summer.
I’m done with taking care of my three kids all day every day. Done. As a high school teacher I look forward to the summer with enthusiasm. Every year in the spring I think, “I can’t wait for the lazy days of summer, when I will spend so much time playing games with my kids and taking them to the pool and making great meals with food from my garden. It’s going to be magical.”
And it usually is, at least for a few weeks. But this summer has been harder than any I’ve ever faced before. I’m alone – truly alone – for the first time ever, and the grief of losing my husband has made it even more difficult to muster up the energy to do anything with my kids.
For the first few days of summer, I tried to be a good stay-at-home summer parent. But even then, I knew it wasn’t like before. Quickly, my summer devolved into a lot of screen time and meals from the freezer. All day every day with three kids is a lot. All day every day with three kids and absolutely no break on the horizon can feel impossible.
“Why don’t you get a sitter?” friends ask. While that’s an idea that might seem useful, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on an 8-inch gash. It’s not enough. I need much more than a few hours off to be able to handle my life.
It’s not just the care and feeding and entertainment of three kids under 10. It’s knowing that there’s no one else besides me to do any of the real emotional work they need right now.
When people ask me how I’m handling single parenting, I know they are usually thinking of the logistics involved. But I’m thinking about how I make sure my kids feel safe and loved. So when they ask about my life, I always answer honestly. “Single parenting is terrible,” I tell anyone who will listen. “I hate it. Most days I just want to run away from my life.”
Of course, I can’t do that. For starters, I love my kids. Also, I can’t run away because three little people are totally dependent on me. So I read the bedtime stories for my oldest and I let my youngest crawl all over me and I make sure to encourage my middle kid when he goes off the diving board. But I am exhausted. I am done.
Most days are like this photo – impossible to manage because I’m totally beat down. That’s the reality of being a suddenly single parent. But there is one other memory I have from this day. Just after my daughter took this photo, she said to me, “mom, let’s go jump off the pier together. It will be fun!”
I didn’t want to do it. I was so tired. But I pulled myself up from the ground, left my boys with a friend and went to the pier. I ran holding her hand and I jumped with her.
We both came up laughing at my terrible cannonball. And that’s what I’ll actually remember about this summer. Even though most of my days were like this photo, what I am going to remember is her laugh that day. Because that sound – that was magical.
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